As strange as it may seem, many players have difficulty hitting a golf ball straight and/or far. Not you or me, certainly, but . . . you know . . . friends. Luckily for them, manufacturers are becoming increasingly aggressive in their efforts to make clubs that are easy to hit. Debuting this fall are bold new game-improvement irons from Nike and Ping as well as the first batch of gargantuan 460-cubic-centimeter drivers. That's probably as big as drivers will ever get, thanks to the USGA's recently proposed size limit, but not too big to fit under a Christmas tree.
NIKE SLINGSHOT IRONS
These are not the clubs Tiger will be using. Nike's head club designer, Tom Stites, began work ten years ago on the Slingshot irons ($799 steel shafts, $899 graphite), hoping to create an ultra-easy-to-hit set for his son. The result is a nontraditional-looking iron with a bowed band of steel (called the "Slingback") across the back and a partially enclosed cavity. The effect is to move the center of gravity well behind the clubface to help launch the ball higher and close the clubface faster, minimizing slices. On longer irons the Slingback is located progressively lower, for loft. The lightweight shafts all weigh the same, for consistent control. Out on the course, we did indeed find these clubs joyously easy to hit. Call 800-922-6453 or visit nikegolf.com.
TOUR EDGE BAZOOKA JMAX CF
The USGA recently proposed that driver size be capped at 460 cc—so naturally, a number of manufacturers have produced clubs that take maximum advantage of that number. Three are shown here. The distinguishing technology of the Tour Edge Bazooka JMAX CF ($299) is its cupped face. Instead of being welded to the edges of the clubhead, it wraps slightly around. The company says this aids in energy transfer and expands the effective sweet spot. Of the drivers on this page, this one seems best suited for mid-handicap players; it has the most offset of the bunch (good for slicers) and seemed to launch the ball on a desirable high trajectory most easily. Comes in four lofts. Call 800-515-3343 or visit touredge.com.
CLEVELAND LAUNCHER 460
It wasn't too long ago that Cleveland introduced its highly successful Launcher 400. The Launcher 460 ($399) looks almost identical, just bigger. Technologically, the main difference is the plasma welding process used to secure the clubface to the body, which uses less weight than traditional welding and thus allows more weight to be put in the rear of the club, enhancing forgiveness. We found that balls sailed surprisingly high even when struck above the center line (this is good). The clubface markings viewed at address seem to favor a ball position slightly toward the heel, which some may find takes getting used to. Available in four lofts. Call 800-999-6263 or visit clevelandgolf.com.
ADAMS GOLF REDLINE
As if the 460-cc clubhead of the Adams Golf Redline driver ($349.95) wasn't forgiving enough by virtue of its size, the designers at Adams placed several small heavy-tungsten inserts along the clubhead's inside rear edge. To what degree this is responsible for correcting off-center hits we can't judge, but every decent swing we made with this club resulted in a remarkably straight shot. We also liked the curving alignment markings on the crown, which may help remind higher handicappers to make a solid, slice-fighting in-to-out move on the ball. Available in three lofts. Call 800-709-6142 or visit adamsgolf.com.
PING G2 IRON SERIES
Ping has been exceptionally busy lately with the introduction of two new iron lines to complement its workhorse i3+ clubs. The G2 Series ($110 per club steel, $140 graphite) is for those who want serious game-improvement features. There are three variants within the line, and Ping expects many customers to create their own ideal set by mixing and matching, with the help of one of its club fitters. The easiest to hit are the G2 EZs (seven-iron through lob wedge only). These are new-concept clubs, designed to produce meaningful distance gaps between clubs for players with slower swing speeds. Similar in appearance to the standard G2s but with more weight lower in the clubhead to launch the ball higher, the EZs have five-degrees difference in loft between clubs instead of the typical three, starting with a seven-iron that is actually stronger (or less lofted) than the standard G2 six-iron. Next up are the G2 HLs (for "high launch"), available in two-iron through five-iron and intended as substitutes for traditional long irons or fairway woods (the three-iron performs similarly to a seven-wood, for instance). Featuring an extra-wide sole, the HLs are extremely forgiving and make it easy to get the ball airborne. The G2s (three-iron through lob wedge) are the standard set in this series, designed for players of all abilities. They have a large clubhead, generous offset, thick topline and wide sole. Compared with the i3+ irons, the G2s are somewhat more forgiving and better at fighting slices.
PING S59 IRONS
At the other end of Ping's new iron lineup are the S59 blades ($130 per club steel, $160 graphite), the first true blades Ping has manufactured since a limited-run set in the 1960s. Responding to an increased interest in blades among better golfers, the S59s have a classic small head, muscleback and thin topline. They do, however, retain a distinctive Ping look thanks to the black polymer insert across the muscleback and a small cavity above it that adds a bit of forgiveness. For blade players, the trajectory and control of these clubs will be very satisfying. Call 800-474-6434 or visit pinggolf.com.
Here's a good cold-weather project: Use this book, Dave Pelz's 10 Minutes a Day to Better Putting (The Pelz Golf Institute, $29.95), to systematically overhaul your putting game. Pelz, the famed short-game guru and author of two of the best-selling putting books ever, boils down his expertise into a sequence of practical lessons and drills. Many can be done indoors, especially the early ones: goal setting; finding the right putter style, grip and rhythm; honing your mechanics; and developing a consistent pre-putt routine. Warning: You may feel compelled to buy, from Pelz, some of the many training aids he recommends—but if this means that by spring you're putting lights out, it may be worth the investment. Call 800-833-7370 or visit pelzgolf.com.
The ClimaCool golf shoe from Adidas ($100) is all about cool, as in keeping your feet from getting hot. The company's traditional three stripes cover a kind of silvery mesh through which air freely flows. More mesh visible through slits on the sole and on the back of the shoe lets even more air in—and out. "As the player walks, he compresses the shoe, forcing hot air out and creating a vacuum-like effect that lets cooler air in," explains Dave Ortley, product manager for Adidas Golf Footwear. The shoes are also lined with a wicking fabric that helps shuttle moisture to the outside, and weigh only 12.8 ounces each. If you're headed for the desert this winter, you might be glad to have a pair along. Call 800-888-2582 or visit adidasgolf.com.
Sonartec Golf, a start-up company in Carlsbad, California, is quietly making serious inroads on the PGA Tour despite paying only three pros, including company advisor Nick Price, to play its clubs. It frequently finishes third in the weekly fairway-woods count. Why?By removing a center channel of material from the sole plate, Sonartec's designers were able to raise the center of gravity slightly, producing the kind of penetrating ball flight Tour pros crave. The saved weight was relocated to the heel and toe, nicely balancing the club and creating extra forgiveness. The Sonartec SS-02 Stainless Steel Fairway Woods ($265 each with proprietary graphite shafts; in three-, four-, five- and seven-wood lofts) have great feel and make a nifty clicking sound when struck solidly. The SS-01 and SS-03 versions (not pictured) have, respectively, a shallower clubface for more forgiveness and a deeper clubface for more workability. Call 877-237-1190 or visit sonartec.com.